Thursday, October 18, 2007
A Few Initial Impressions Of Portland

I love Portland. No, seriously... I looooooove Portland.

So, I've been here for a couple of weeks now. It's probably time to get down some of my first thoughts about the place before they become corrupted by experience.

1) People are awfully polite here.

I don't know if I actually believe this -- it seems so... impossible -- but as yet I've seen very little evidence to the contrary. Checkers at the supermarket smile and chat to you, but they do it in a way that damn near passes for genuine interest. Drivers wave you across the street, or wave thanks when you let them into traffic. Passerby on the sidewalks nod and say hello as often as not. Even the bag lady who gave me the finger as I drove by did it with a huge grin on her face. I've yet to have anyone fail to hold a door for me. And the traffic -- I mean, I know there are assholes here, but I'm constantly astonished at the docility of Portland drivers. The average speed even on the freeway seems to hover around 50 mph, 25-30 on the city streets, and without much sense of impatience or aggression from other drivers. Everyone's just kind of getting on with it.

There has to be a fucking catch somewhere.

2) The roads are confusing, but they make perfect sense.

Portland is basically laid out on a grid, and almost all of the streets are two-lane, neighborhood streets. Even the major thoroughfares rarely extend beyond four narrow lanes, and are generally lined with trees, houses, and parked cars. The grid is frequently interrupted by strange little jogs off-course, and in some places they've gotten fancy with one-way couplets and roundabouts that sometimes throw me off. Downtown, as far as I can tell, is a maze of idiosyncratic diversions. But even so, I never seem to get lost. I can get from any Point A to any Point B without a map, as long as I know roughly where each point lies. Driving is inefficient, but satisfyingly vague and abstract. I just kind of wander from place to place, but somehow I always get there.

3) The food is really, really good.

I have yet to have a bad meal here. Even the stuff considered "mediocre" by locals is as good as the stuff considered "good" in Memphis. Now, obviously, I haven't had everything, and I'm sure there are bad meals to be had. But this is clearly a city that takes these things seriously, and is willing to back up words with culinary action. Just this afternoon I walked to the local supermarket (a regional chain that tends towards creative-yuppie snoot, but also acknowledges that Cap'n Crunch is delicious), and I took a chance on an apple. Apples are the ultimate test for me -- there are so many bad apples, and so few good ones. I love them above all other fruits, but having come to know what an apple is supposed to be, I just can't bring myself to eat another pallid, mealy industrially-grown apple. I've gotten used to disappointment and a lack of apples.

But this apple was nearly perfect -- sweet, but still a little acid, firm and crunchy, the kind that snaps cleanly when you bite into it and turns into a puddle of juice when you chew. Better still, this particular apple was grown within fifty miles of Portland; no New Zealand or Chilean importation required. And it was organic, but since so little transport was required to get it to the store, it wasn't particularly expensive. I honestly can't imagine what more you could ask from an apple.

And there are bakeries everywhere -- good ones, that bake good bread. There seems to be at least one in every neighborhood. And coffee shops, and patisseries, and Thai restaurants that serve more than pad thai, and even the junk food is more satisfying. And milk in glass bottles! And well-prepared salads! And these people must fucking love macaroni and cheese, because it's absolutely everywhere.

4) But the fashion is fucking awful.

The guys are merely affected -- lots of strange facial hair and silly hats wandering around town, but I don't have a problem with that. But the women... eegads. I've seen so many fashion spreads in the local newspapers of locally-designed clothes, stuff that doesn't even look good on the models, much less the girls on the street. The mode courant in Portland seems to require on of a thousand styles of unflattering gunny sacks paired with an absurd home-knit scarf and mukluks. I don't get it.

My first day in town, I went driving. My ipod was still dysfunctional, so I was left with the radio. And that first hour in the car, the radio played me no less than half a dozen songs that resonate with past periods in my life -- songs that called up strong feelings from old lives, songs I still associate with hopefulness and optimism. And all songs that I haven't heard in years. It was weird, but it made me happy. And just yesterday, walking up Division, I saw a poster tacked to a post that said, "All you have is now." That was it, no web address or anything, just that one pseudo-zen statement. But I thought about it and I decided, even if that's true, I'm really into now, I'm all over now. There are still tensions in my life -- I need a job, and I need a permanant place, and I need to meet more people in town -- but essentially, I'm absolutely fucking thrilled about now. I'm having one of those rare moments when there genuinely isn't anywhere I'd rather be. And no, I don't know how long it'll last, but it'll do for now.
5:04 PM ::
Amy :: permalink